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Educational Outreach Nugget

One teacher's RET experience: Building a viscometer and using It in the classroom

Kristy Beauvais, a physics teacher at Concord-Carlisle High School in Concord, MA, spent seven weeks during the summer of 2002 at the Center for Materials Science and Engineering (MIT MRSEC) as a participant in the Centerís Research Experience for Teachers program. Over the summer, she joined Prof. Steven Leebís research group to design and construct several variable temperature viscometers. In the course of doing so, Ms. Beauvais became familiar with and participated in the engineering process, including the initial design, prototype, modification and assembly. She increased her knowledge of basic electronics, became familiar with the life cycle of a circuit (schematic design, breadboard prototype, layout and population of a printed circuit board) and used the viscometer to investigate the temperature dependence of the viscosity of a variety of materials.

During the 2002-2003 academic year, Ms Beauvais used six of the viscometers with her high school physics students to collect data and create graphs of viscosity as a function of temperature for water, honey, and Pluronic (a commercial polymeric material). Students confirmed their initial hypotheses and concluded that while the viscosity of water is not essentially dependent on temperature, the viscosity of honey decreases with temperature. The viscosity of the Pluronic actually decreased with temperature, a property unique to few fluids.

Ms. Beauvais reports, "Students were very interested in the polymer material and enjoyed the hands-on approach to learning about how the structure of a fluid can determine its properties. They were also very interested in the fact that I was part of the research team that designed and assembled the viscometers."

Ms. Beauvais is back at CMSE this summer for the second part of her RET program. Drawing on what she learned last year in the course of designing and building the viscometers and then in using the them in her own teaching, she will create instructional materials for using the viscometers in the classroom. The ultimate goal is to create a unit composed of the viscometers and companion teaching guide that CMSE will lend to area high school teachers.

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